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Passing My Anxiety Attack on to You, a Service Provided by the Internet
Lost Girl
Few things have depressed me more recently than this post by Charlie Stross. In fact, the night I read it I stayed up til 4 am having a full on panic attack about, um, the future of the world I guess. Which sounds stupid. It is not a reason to lay in bed making dramatic lemur eyes at the ceiling.

And yet, there I was.

Five years ago I was so much more optimistic about the state of the world and the future than I am now. Which is insane, because Bush was in power and things were shitty then, too. But I had such confidence in my generation and the power of awesomeness to win out. Is it just because we had, I don’t know, A GODDAMN DEPRESSION in there? That I’m over 30 now, so contractually obligated to be miserable about everything and pessimistic and want everything to be how it was when I was in my mid twenties? I don’t know.

It sucks to live at the end of a world. And we are–this is the end of industrial culture, kids. The tail end of the revolution. We live in the Shire, a hundred years post-Saruman’s Patented Electricalfantastik Oppression System. Industrial life has given the developed world all it had to give, and now we’ve offloaded the horrible parts of it to parts of the world we don’t like to think about and I don’t even know what we’re moving toward instead. I’m not that good a science fiction writer.

What I see in that post and in many other futurist predictions is that the only job in the future is Robot Maintainer. I simply believe our (American) government would rather see us all rot and die than take the smallest step toward a post-wage (ZOMGSOCIALIST) economy, and if everything can be automated, well, that 1% will have no reason to tolerate the rest of us as much as they do. And since I’m one of those assholes the internet says has no worth at all and deserves to starve because I got a LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE OH NOES (possibly I should stop reading reddit?) well, it seemed obvious to me at 4 am with my ceiling for company that my job would vanish into the black pit of WhoEvenReadsAnymore in the next few years. At least my husband has some Robo-Relevant Skillz?

It feels like dystopia is our only option. No wonder everyone’s writing about it. One of the comments on that post talked about replacing teachers with AIs to instruct kids and my brain just screamed INSTRUCT THEM TO DO WHAT? If even teaching, that most human activity, is offloaded to AI, and it will be, because AUTOMATION IS TEH BETTERZ and also current American culture has never met a job it didn’t want to get rid of or pay someone in a developing nation a penny and a half to kill themselves doing, what can we possibly educate kids in EXCEPT liberal arts if all the real world applicable stuff isn’t applicable at all because anything a human can do Apple has made an i____ to do?

Dmitri says I’m crazy, the post wasn’t dismal and he can’t understand why it would upset me so much. I’m not sure I understand. We fear change? Shit, even the cornerstone of my internet activity, long form blogging, is dying incredibly fast. I don’t like what’s replacing it, microblogging and UGH Facebook, which apparently people think is a permanent public utility now? And fairly soon I’d bet even microblogging will die off, so people can just be advertised to and play Farmville until they’re dead. I miss the days of the internet feeling absolutely positive to me, rather than something that has destroyed a scary amount of industries (and yes, made some, too) and given us once more, bizarrely, a monoculture. Entire, well-followed Twitters do little more than spout internet memes like a gross shallow fountain, and half of television just culls from YouTube for programming. I was happier when I read more Livejournal and less reddit.The internet is a beast, it owns our world, and the best is good and the beast is bad. But you can’t avoid the beast.

AND THIS IS OLD PEOPLE LAWN TALK. I hate myself for even saying it. Yes, yes, be the change you wish to see. Except that most of everything I as an individual have no control over. That’s been one of the biggest lessons of being an adult for me: the system does not care, and you can’t really affect it except in small ways. Climate change has happened already. It will keep happening. Even if I never eat tuna again that fish will go extinct in my lifetime. There is fuck all I as a person can do about that. And this is what keeps me up. Everything changes and you can’t even know if you are changing sufficiently with it. I started playing Skyrim, the game everyone says is the MOST AMAZING EVAR, and I got bored after a couple of hours and knitted instead. I am an old lady. I would rather cook in the real world than in Skyrim. I even got excited to snow shovel this morning because it makes me feel alive rather than numb in front of a screen, which is probably the ideal state of a human as far as companies and culture is concerned.

Maybe I take it hard because I grew up in the 90s, when the internet was new and briefly we thought everything was going to be pretty great for the forseeable future. Smile, we were all on Candid Camera.

Or did we not think that? Am I doing the thing, the Boomer Fallacy, where I think that when I was a kid things were good and easy because I was a kid and I didn’t know anything so the SHUT UP THE FIFTIES WERE THE BEST LET’S COSPLAY THEM FOREVER?

And maybe it’s not so bad. I come to my blog to wriggle out of my anxiety and it kind of works. I worry about 2032, and 2052, and will there even be such a thing as a “university” or a “job” for our kid, or even “winter” or “peacetime.” I think Occupy Wall Street was pretty much right about things and no one cared. I try to think that every generation despairs but things keep going somehow. And I try to hold on to this silly thing I wrote a few years back because it’s all I’ve got at 4am when the lemur eyes have settled on open, open, open forever.

At some point, enough people are going to notice that things are going to hell in a handbasket, and to get over their denial of it, that they’re going to be ready to look for solutions. Being someone who has a solution ready, whether it be a collection of fertilized tuna eggs in cold storage with sufficient biodiversity to restock the oceans, or a vision of a world where people care about anticipating problems and solving them before they become critical, will pay off then. But yes, the situation is going to get worse before enough people develop the will to make it get better.

I foresee personal connection, friendships and relationships between people both diversifying and becoming more important as the rest of the world gets more horrible. We will need each other, and by and large, I think we'll have each other, more than ever, to lean on, because none of us have the luxury of being individualist.

And yet the means by which we find each other are becoming narrower and narrower. Five years ago everyone I knew I met online. Of those friendships I've started in the last two, almost none have been online contacts.

But good thing I can stay friends with the maladjusts I knew in high school forever!

I suspect there is a world on the other side of the future shock, and on my good days, I am confident in our ability to get there.

replacing teachers with AIs to instruct kids

My first exposure to ELIZA was from a classmate who gleefully demonstrated the program with a dialogue that began “I like to eat bunnies and spit out their guts.” I can see some of aspects of the education system automated away (“achievement unlocked: multiplication tables!”), but an electronic replacement for teachers will have to contend with students who would take “subvert the AI” as their primary educational mission, and who would perform that mission with as much enthusiasm as any malware author.

One piece is already here

My daughters have an online math program as part of their elementary school curriculum, and when you show capability in completing a certain number of tasks, you unlock achievements...

Your rant can cuddle up with mine, about how apparently we're trending toward a world that's all noise and no signal, and I can talk to my husband about books or movies or video games like Dragon Age but there's fuck-all we can say about Castleville, which is what eats a disturbing amount of his time these days.

But I don't think things will trend this way (by which I mean the subject of your rant, not just my bit about signal-to-noise) forever. You can't, I think, actually reduce populations to passive sheep and get them to stay that way. Sooner or later there's a convulsion. The question is what form it will take, and how bad it will be.

I don't know. I kind of think science fiction is the only reason we think there has to be a convulsion. :(

Cat, can you ping me via email? Charlie.stross@gmail ...

Dearest lady... *hands you cup of chamomile tea*

Do not despair. It's ugly out there. I don't deny it. But we will get through this. Because people like you *do* lay awake at 4 AM thinking, "shit's on fire, yo!" And the Occupy movement isn't gone. It's still there. We're still there. We're not going anywhere.

No. The system doesn't care. But individuals *do* matter. It's just we have to acrete together, like drops of water, before we acrete enough mass to become an ocean of change.

Hang in there. We will get through this. And in one piece even.

First ribbonfarm, now this. Have you posted a list of the blogs you read anywhere?

(This doesn't make me panic, only because I think of 50s magazine articles that talking about flying cars by 1999, or all-plastic home furniture that housewives would hose down. Interesting, yes, but still only predictions.)

When things get bad I remember two quotes from The West Wing

"Decisions are made by those who turn up"

And this exchange

Bartlett: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. Do you know why?"
Will: "Because it's the only thing that ever has"

Yeah, but West Wing is a total fantasy of how the world works. And more small thoughtful groups are crushed utterly than ever change a thing.

I feel as though this sort of collective (and justified!) dread is why a lot of people have started re-connecting with the 'off-line world' more there days, myself included (although, as someone at the tail-end of her 20s, I don't represent the newer generation of kids who have never known a world without instant everything and FaceBorg). I know so many people who have started taking up manual crafts; growing their own food; ethical buying; slow food; learning how to build furniture from scraps; or who have simply taken up hobbies that take them outside more often. I feel like there is a backlash coming - maybe too late for some things, but it is coming.

I feel the same sense of hopelessness, helplessness and loss as you. I'm educating myself on what I (as a lowly individual) can do, but I agree, a lot of it doesn't seem to be up to us.

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WHAT. I don't even understand that!

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I wish I could say something reassuring. Robot Maintainer doesn't seem as secure a job up close as you paint it. Sorry, that's not the right thing to say. Have you tried to put writing on XKCD's chart? It might be less automatable than you seem to suppose.

There's a vague principle that might be termed origin of life, or alternately, blowback. There was no life, and then there were plants. And then after the plants destroyed the sky, there were animals. Animals arose on the plant-filled background just like plants arose on the nonliving background. Viruses are life arising on background of living creatures. Cancer is life arising on a background of one creature's flesh. Life keeps on arising.

Blowback is the negative consequences of a covert operation. An object moving through liquid will create vortices, which are sustained by the object's motion and also sap it. These Turing patterns are made by taking the inhibitor of one scale of pattern formation and using it as the activator for the next scale: http://www.openprocessing.org/visuals/?visualID=31195

I suspect that so long as the suns burn, this origin-of-life principle will continue to apply - even after a grey goo disaster or a singleton superintelligence foom - and so there will probably be rich texture in the world, possibly texture that is intrinsically valuable in its own right.

It's not a very reassuring philosophy, I know. Sorry.

Yeah, not especially. I would prefer to keep living, to be happy, to make goodness in the world--I do not want to be food for cancer.

Which chart?

We each may only be able to affect the world a little bit; however, if enough people work together, we can accomplish a lot. First, though, we have to face up to the magnitude of the changes that will be required.

For more food for thought, I recommend Chris Martenson's "Unfixable" presentation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WBiTnBwSWc.

One thing we're clearly looking is the end of the US being a superpower. I'm hoping this changes the situation in the US - perhaps when it's clear even to the people who still believe in "American exceptionalism", that this nation's days at the top of the heap are over, things will improve here.

However, it's equally clear that for the developing world, things have never been better - more food, longer lives, a significant decrease in tyrants and tyranny... Yes, the US sucks now, and it may well suck in 20 years, but for most of the planet 20 years from now definitely looks like it will be better than today.

Unfortunately, immigration from America to other places is damn hard.